Offshoring Stirs Reader Passions

Readers respond en masse to a recent Editor's Note on offshoring with a mixture of acceptance at its inevitability and outrage at the companies sending jobs overseas.

Offshoring Stirs Reader Passions
by Patrick Meader

Posted March 26, 2004

Offshoring has been receiving a lot of attention in the U.S. media in recent weeks. It's a matter of significant national concern because the jobs in the software and IT industries are some of the best paying and most at risk in the immediate future.

Last month's Editor's Note, "Offshoring Shakes Up Developer Landscape," produced a near-tsunami of correspondence from readers. Given the amount of feedback received and the importance of the topic to many of this magazine's readers, both in the United States and abroad, I've compiled several of these letters here.

One of the most common themes in the e-mails VSM received is that outsourcing is inevitable and that workers in the United States need to adapt to this new environment to get by. Wrote Scott Pendleton:

We can't stop the market forces that dictate offshoring. But we can, individually, become more entrepreneurial. We can give up the fantasy of a fat, cushy job; hustle for contracting work; and then farm it out to talented subcontractors whom we can pay less because they are less entrepreneurial than ourselves. If you don't like being laid off, make yourself the boss of your own business and fight to keep work in the United States.

While many readers noted that U.S. workers will need to adapt to these changing market conditions, others, like Mark Thormann, took me to task for not being more critical of offshoring and its effect in the United States:

Fewer developers means fewer readers and fewer advertising dollars. I would have expected VSM and FTP to take a stand on offshoring, but you probably have an Indian version of the publication in the works.

VSM does have a broad international audience. More than one-third of its subscribers live outside the United States, and the editorial in the magazine is aimed at the readership in general. I did not express an opinion about the specific practice of offshoring as it pertains to the people who work in the United States because this magazine is aimed at a broader audience than that.

But, several readers did ask, so here's what I think: The practice of offshoring has been devastating to many workers in the United States, and many of the companies that follow this practice do so to their own and to the United States' long-term detriment. On the one hand, companies in the United States complain about a shortage of skilled workers. On the other, these same companies intentionally look past skilled local workers who reside in this country to save money either through offshoring or issuing H-1B visas. It's a selfish, short-sighted process, and there will be a price to pay in the future. But I'm speaking for myself when I say this, not for the magazine or FTP in general.

David Pat McAteer summed up two common themes at once, saying it was both a moral issue and one of national security:

There is no way our government can keep companies from outsourcing jobs overseas. But is it right for companies that have made their money through the years with American workers to send their jobs overseas and import the product or code? Is it right for these companies to call America home? Outsourcing is not just an issue of jobs, but of national security. Will outsourced workers write the code for the software for our nuclear missiles? This much can be said: It's wrong for the United States Department of Commerce to fight states that are trying to pass laws to keep state contracts from going to foreign firms.

Several readers also asserted that parallels are found less in the health industry, and more in American manufacturing in general. Wrote Paul La Torres:

We need to face the fact that programmers are now more like the textile workers of the past than the doctors of today. With few exceptions, there will be fewer jobs available in the near future for programmers. Where there are jobs, working conditions (and pay) will deteriorate as management realizes it doesn't have to worry about finding "good" candidates.

One of the shortest letters was also one of the most direct. John Ferrara summed up the general sentiment of many readers when he said, "I want CEOs to be offshored, too."

Talk Back:
Is the outsourcing of American jobs overseas inevitable? What can workers in the United States (and abroad) do to make sure they have a set of skills employers want to have? Tell me at editor@visualstudiomagazine.com or discuss this in the Talk to the Editors of Visual Studio Magazine forum.

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